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Cooking with Kids Can be Fun (Trust Me!)

While cooking with children is more chaotic, I’ve learned many tricks along the way so it’s not only fun for everyone but practical, too.

Cooking with Kids Can be Fun (Trust Me!)

Credit: Jenn Cox

My son has played in the kitchen with us from a very young age (I mean, highchair age). Whether decorating cookies for holidays, rolling out the dough for fall pies, or snapping green beans for Christmas dinner, cooking in our household is a family activity. My husband and I love being in the kitchen and wanted to transfer that passion to our son. We knew it was a valuable life lesson to know the way around the kitchen, something both our parents imparted to us.

But I hear many of my parent friends complaining that getting their kids involved in meal prep only leads to stress, aggravation, and messes. While I find cooking with children to be more chaotic, I’ve learned many tricks along the way that have helped streamline the process so it’s not only fun for everyone but practical, too.

Be choosey about your recipes

I can’t stress this enough! When I started cooking with my son, I’d pull out cookbooks and let him choose what to make. Because it was new to me as well, it wasn’t a smooth process. I’d be trying to read the steps and fumbling around for ingredients, and my son would get bored. When cooking with younger kids, it’s best to stick with what you know and prepare something you’re already familiar with.

If your kiddos are a bit older (tweens or teens), then it might be more fun to pick something brand new to make. But at least kids of that age can read and follow a recipe with you, so it’s not as difficult.

Your best bet when cooking with littles is to keep it simple: the easiest things to make are cake, cookie, and muffin mixes or ready-made doughs you can find in the fridge or freezer sections of your local grocery store (pie, cinnamon rolls, and cookie doughs). As for following a recipe, basic cookies (chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter, or sugar), breakfast entrees, and one-pot meals are good starting points.

author Jenn's son and husband cooking together in the kitchen Credit: Jenn Cox

Prepare, prepare, prepare

You know when you watch a cooking show, and the host has all the pre-measured ingredients ready to go? I quickly learned that rather than my excited kid trying to measure sugar and oil, it was much better if I got everything ready and then called him into the kitchen to help. Measuring things takes time, and while you’re busy trying to level off a cup of flour, your mini-me will be licking the brown sugar and playing with raw eggs. Go through the entire recipe and get all the ingredients and tools, like measuring cups, spoons, graters, juicers, cutting boards, etc., ready.

Another helpful tip: if you get your recipes off the internet like I do (I love Pinterest), it can be hard reading and scrolling through a recipe on a device like a tablet or cell phone (it’s too small!). So, I recopy it onto my fridge with a wipe-off marker—that way, it’s large, clearly visible, and always at hand.

Idle hands are the devil’s playthings

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I only have one son, so it’s easy to give him the majority of the busy work when it comes to kitchen play, but if you have multiple kiddos, you’ll want to ensure that they each have a task to do. Give them something they can work on independently or with the help of an older sibling. When kids don’t have something specific to do, they’ll start finding their own ways to stay entertained. And that’s when trouble starts!

author Jenn's son making pasta Credit: Jenn Cox

Give pushy eaters a nudge

Cooking together is a great opportunity to try something different, including new ingredients, flavour profiles, or international cuisines. If your toddler or child isn’t a very adventurous eater, introducing a new dish you prepare together could be the perfect way to get them excited about trying a new food. Surely, there’s something in your private food bank of recipes your child hasn’t tried yet – now’s the time!

Life lessons beyond just food prep

Having our son in the kitchen with us chopping, stirring, and kneading isn’t just fun (who doesn’t love sharing a passion they have with their children?), but it’s also giving him skills he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life. One day, when he moves out of our house, we’ll rest comfortably knowing our son can at least make a healthy meal.

But beyond learning how to cook, he’s getting lessons in math by using and converting fractions. We take him grocery shopping for ingredients, where we show him how to choose ingredients, price compare, and read food labels. There are so many things to learn while preparing good food.

Don’t avoid cooking with your kids because it might be a tad more work. With a little bit of planning, everyone can benefit from being in the kitchen. Cooking and baking are wonderful ways to connect while preparing nutritious, delicious food that can be enjoyed together. And down the road, maybe they’ll prepare dinner while you put your feet up! Cheers!

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